She looked at the baby, and wondered – is there something wrong with me?
She took in its ten little fingers and toes, the soft folds of fat around its upper legs, its arms, its wrists. The perfect little mouth. She had never known such softness. And she wondered – what kind of monster am I?
Pregnancy had been bliss. People doted on her – ‘You look so beautiful! Positively glowing!’ She’d loved the attention. Everywhere she went people asked her how she was feeling, they stared after her in the streets with adoring looks. She was in awe with her belly. She loved dressing herself, picking outfits that accentuated the bump. But mostly she loved it because it would bring her that which she had been craving for years. ‘I am a mother’, she always used to say, ‘I just don’t have any kids yet’.
Then labor came – expectedly, and completely unexpectedly – in the middle of the night. She woke, thinking she needed to go to the bathroom. She got out of bed, somewhat clumsily because of the huge belly, and went to the bathroom; nothing came. By now she realized it wasn’t like having to use the bathroom, exactly. It reminded her more of menstrual cramps. That’s when she knew she needed to wake her husband.
Labor was fine. It was fine! Painful, sure. Scary. But nothing compared to what would come next.
There had been a whole team supporting her, at the hospital. Her husband, of course – bless him. Nurses, midwives, doctors. They were all telling her: you can do this. You are doing great. You were made for this.
And she believed them. So she pushed through the pain. She didn’t give up. She wanted to, for a moment there – but she persevered. And then the baby was born. And all the people left.
There they were, the three of them. Her husband, and the thing that had come out of her. Her child, she knew it was her child, there was no doubt about that. There they were, home again. But you can’t go home again. The thought reverberated in her mind in the days and weeks that followed their short stay at the hospital. This had been our home – me and my husband’s – and we are back here now, but everything is different. And I can never go back to how it was.
Or can I?
She looked at the baby and wondered – will I be able to do it?
She would walk away. Leave it in its crib, sneak out of the room and close the door behind her. Her heart hammered against her ribs. Would she dare?
She wanted nothing more than to sleep. The thing was sleeping now, so she should too. That’s what they had said. But she couldn’t – too afraid it would wake the moment she drifted off to sleep. And then what? She would need to feed it again. And then it would want to be held. Or should she play with it? You had to play with babies, or they would not learn. Tears welled up in her eyes as the suffocating truth hit her. It would never learn, and then never grow, and she would be stuck with it until the end of days.
‘Oh, but you’ll be over the moon’, they had said, whenever she voiced doubts about having to take care of a human being, about getting up in the middle of the night. This was before she’d given birth. ‘You’ll be so in love with your little baby, you won’t care!’
She cared. She hated it.
No, that wasn’t right. Hate was too feeble a word.
There had been an incident, once, when she’d been home alone with it. The thing had been crying for what felt like ages, and she’d done everything the books said. Tried to calm it with her voice; put something in the crib that had her scent on it; go back every three minutes to tell it everything would be fine. But the thing had cried and cried and all she wanted was silence. And then she had yanked the thing out of its crib and pushed it on the bed. With way too much force. There had been something in her, an entity, that had told her: careful. She hadn’t thrown the thing across the room. That’s what she had wanted to do. So, there was still hope for her? She had been two things at that moment: blind anger, and restraint. She couldn’t fathom where the restraint had come from. Who was that entity that had spoken? The only thing she could come up with was guilt. It had certainly not been concern for the child. The only thing that had stopped her from flinging it across the room was the fear of having to explain it later.
She hadn’t told her husband. She did, in the beginning, share with him her fears, her despair. When he had come home that night, after the incident, and asked her how her day had been, she’d told him truthfully that it had been hard. But she hadn’t told him about her sin. She couldn’t form the words. It would have been as impossible to say what she had done as mention flying elephants or talking monkeys. She couldn’t bear the look he would give her.
She stopped telling him things, as the weeks wore on. She realized he didn’t want to hear them. His empathy for her had run out. All he wanted was to come home and have her tell him: ‘It was all right today. Me and the baby did fine.’
So that’s what she did. And then he would take over, and she would watch him with it, and a searing jealousy and desperation would take hold of her. He did it so effortlessly, so naturally. Was it all her fault, then? Was there something so broken inside of her, that she couldn’t take care of her own child, while others did so comfortably and uncomplaining?
Something was closing in on her, and she couldn’t breathe. She needed sleep. Her throat constricted as she calculated when her first full night of sleep was going to be. A crushing pressure built up inside her chest. Years. It wouldn’t happen for years.
‘In the beginning’, people had told her, ‘you won’t be able to sleep. All you want to do is stare at it, make sure it’s still breathing!’ She hadn’t yet had the inclination. She didn’t care if it stopped breathing. It wasn’t like she wanted it to, no… not that. But if it happened to die in its sleep – she would be free. And she would be doted on again. Imagine the empathy then!
She clawed at her head as she realized the heinousness of the thought. An innocent child dead, so she could get a pedicure and attention from her friends? She pulled at her hair, willing it to hurt.
She could never tell anyone. They would condemn her. They would see her as an evil thing, never look at her again. Her husband would divorce her. She would be alone. But it would hardly be more lonely than how it was now.
She had cried, once, in the middle of night, while she was feeding it: ‘I can’t do this!’. Then she’d looked down at was she was doing. Her mind had short-circuited. She was doing it. She was doing it in the moment she yelled that she couldn’t.
She looked at the thing in the crib. Beautiful, was it? So soft. Not a blemish on it. Skin as smooth as silk. It felt like that, too. She had stroked it. And those little patches of fat! You could squeeze them and they would give way like marshmallows. Hardly any bone to detect. All the thing was was skin and fat and velvet.
And there was purity. An artlessness she had never experienced before. Especially when it was sleeping. Sometimes she forgot – when she found herself gazing at it – that its silk folds harbored a monster. An animal, a demon coveting nothing but her undying attention, milk and blood.
She looked at the baby and wondered – what the hell is wrong with me?
Image – Pixabay.com
10 thoughts on “The Thing by Dianne Willems”
We are delighted to see your story published on the site.
We know how hard you worked at this.
The dedication that you show and your willingness to learn and work at your craft is inspiring.
On-top of all that you have given us a very thought provoking story.
This is very dark and the reader is left with a niggle about the reasoning being more about motive than understanding. But that niggle is possibly being cruel, the point is the very last line in your story. Never mind anyone else, she needs to work this out and deal with the answer.
Thanks Hugh! As I told you before, it was because of your encouragement that I finally made it. It really meant a lot.
Very well written! I couldn’t stop reading and I felt sorry the story ended. What happens next?
A scary story, and even more scary as it has an open end… The loneliness of the mother , now and possibly or probably in the future makes the reader feel very uneasy, and wating a sequel.
Altogether an impressive way to provide some insight in what may be some very real feelings.
I believe that this sort of thing goes on inside nearly every new mother’s head and that they feel guilty as hell about it. This is where communication and support come in. The real thing, not the passive stuff people try to sell you nowadays.
The story is effective and no cheap images designed only to shock come from it. Well done.
Good job of getting inside the mind of the narrator. Convincing, dark, and unsettling.
Such a gripping piece. Very well-written.
Nicely done portrait of what could be postpartum depression but maybe is more than that, an aversion to parasites….if I were to be the devil’s Swiftian advocate. Either way, the way the ongoing fear the Mother has about herself, her thoughts, her family relationship, is clearly shown. There’s a terrifying contradiction between the mother’s thoughts about the way the baby appears on the outside, and the “demon” she perceives inside it.
Great intriguing story!
Amongst other things, it ultimately left me contemplating what ‘the thing’ could refer to.. At first it seems to refer to the child. Yet later, it can also be seen as the thing inside the mother. Whether its ‘the monster’ inside her or that other ‘entity’ that had inspired her restraint during the incident… Both of which seem unnatural to her…
Very gripping indeed, and it leaves me hungry for more stories filled with symbolism by the author..!
Unnerving and evocative. More to follow?